I read a couple of issues of this when I was a kid, but not all of them.  It was very hard for me to follow a series regularly in those days. So many times, I read the first part of a story, and didn't get to read the conclusion until decades later when it was reprinted.  I was recently given a collection of all 17 issues, plus some extras. (Thanks, Jeff!)  So, here we are.

I've heard this series described as Marvel taking a bunch of characters that weren't up to much and throwing them together. I don't know about that. I knew who all these characters were at the time, but I didn't know much about their backstories.  I would have been twelve at the time, and only been reading American comics for a short time.

We start with:

The Champions #1 (October 1975):  "The World Still Needs...The Champions!"

Written by Tony Isabella (The writing is OK. It does reasonably well on the Baron's "People Don't Actually Talk Like That, Roy" Scale. He does spell "fracas" as "fracus", however.)

Art is by Don Heck and Mike Esposito. (The art is competent, but not great.)

We start with two of the least interesting X-Men, (Well, none of the original X-Men were that all-fired interesting, there's a reason the book was cancelled and had to be re-invented to become a success.),

  • The Angel (A guy with wings is an interesting visual, but he could in theory be taken out by Elmer Fudd.)
  • The Iceman (The character has an interesting power set, but never had much of a personality.)

They are apparently throwing away the chance to attend UCLA, one of America's premier schools, because they don't feel like it.  They are beset by harpies.

Next we see the Black Widow, who has been forced to leave the man she loved - apparently Daredevil - for reasons which I don't know what they are. She is in town looking for a job as a language teacher, which seems a waste of her talents as a super-spy.  She is beset by Amazons, who are looking for Venus, who is posing as a college teacher,  for some reason.

Ghost Rider comes in next, as Johnny Blaze is in town doing an unspecified favor for a friend, and is beset by a creature claiming to be Cerberus, although he doesn't really look like it much.

Finally we meet Hercules, who is in town to give a guest lecture on Greek mythology, which actually seems like a good idea.   He is beset by mutates from the future, although why they are working alongside Greek myths is not explained.

In the course of their various battles, our heroes (and Venus) re drawn together, where they encounter...

Cliffhanger: Pluto shows up with Areas and Venus, saying that Herc has to marry Hipployta, and Venus has to marry Ares, or the universe will die!

Overall: Interesting stuff. I hadn't realized that this business of dragging a team's origin out over several issues went back this far.

 

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The Baron said:

I've heard of that book, but never seen it.

I second John's recommendation. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a terrific book.



Commander Benson said:


The Baron said:

Warren hires a business manager for the team - he wants them to be heroes for the common man, whatever that means. 

Yeah, that "heroes for the common man" thing always puzzled me, too.  Does that mean the Champions would pounce on the guy who goes through the "fifteen-items-or-less" line with twenty items in his cart?  Or perhaps they go after the fast-food clerk who forgot your fries when you went through the drive-through window?

"Neighbour's barking dog keeping you up?  Call the Champions!"

The "heroes for the common man" thing was as absurd as the '70's Green Arrow constantly haranging the rest of the Justice League for not tackling street-level crime.

Well, it might have been useful had Warren articulated a little more what he meant by it. Perhaps he explains it further in later issues that I haven't read yet.  In what  way would this team serve the "common man" that the Avengers, Defenders, X-Men and FF were not?

I do also question a little how much Warren Worthington the Third knows about the "common man" and what his needs are.

The Champions #6 (June 1976):  "Mad Dogs and Businessmen"

It's Isabella, Tuska and Colletta this time out.

Rampage is described as "the super-villain who could be you". Uh, no. While I certainly would be capable of running a business into the ground, I like to think that if I was smart enough to build a power-suit, I'd think of some better way to use it than this guy did.

Anyway, Our heroes rescue Warren, but Rampage escapes and Ivan is hurt.  Warren nominates Natasha to  be leader.  Bobby is already thinking about leaving (Was he always such a whinger?)

Clarke's lawyer that he fired last issue rats him out to the police.  Rampage flees, unintentionally hurting a policeman.  The Champs fight Rampage. When he realizes that he is losing, he tries to self-immolate, but the heroes save him.  We end with the lawyer scheming to take control of what's left of Clarke's business.  Still no sing of Ghost rider.

Overall:  An OK issue. The  political commentary is somewhat ham-fisted.  I think we're supposed to  feel bad for Clarke, and that it's really society's fault or something. In practice, he comes across as a bit of a dumbass.

Oh, and a Kirby/Giacoia cover:

Time to play “weekend catch-up”…

ISSUE #4: I can see why Hercules and the Black Widow are still together after their adventure, but why are Bobby and Warren hanging out with Ivan. I the last panel they come so close to forming a team.

ISSUE #5: In this issue they are at least talking about forming a team. Warren makes his “pitch.” I think “heroes for the common man” reflects that fact that the average Joe doesn’t have access to, say, the Avengers. Putting the headquarters in a high-rise skyscraper might not have been the best first move, though.

ISSUE #6: I maintain they are not quite a team yet (although they are speaking as if they are). For one thing, the Ghost Rider hasn’t even been in the past two issues. In that respect, the cover is a bit metetextual: “You clowns just formed the CHAMPIONS… but now RAMPAGE is gonna rip your team apart!” I’m glad you posted a picture of the cover because I wanted to mention that Kirby was contributing a lot of covers to Marvel comics at this time. Many (if not most) of them were extremely “stiff” to my eye, and this cover is a prime example. I didn’t like them then, but I’ve grown to appreciate the dynamic poses in more recent years.

Speaking of Black Goliath and Tigra (as John Dunbar was yesterday), Tony Isabella mentioned in his intro that there was a push at Marvel at this time for new titles, and these three were his (but he wanted to call Black Goliath “Giant-Mam”).

“So, what happened? Isabella and Mantlo were busy one month, and Claremont was walking by and was asked to write a story to tread water for a month?"

Isabella addresses that in his intro.

TONY ISABELLA on CHAMPIONS #3-6:

“I moved back to my native Cleveland during these opening issues of the title, drawn back home by Barb Kepke (the future Mrs. Isabella) and my growing dislike of New York City. The move was complicated. Bill Mantlo scripted Champions #3 from my panel-by-panel plot while Chris Claremont plotted and scripted issue #4. I was cool with the assignments. After all, I was the editor who first hired prodection guy Bill as a writer and had hired Chris as my assistant editor on Marvel’s black-and-white magazines of the era.

“When I got back in the Champions saddle, I wanted to establish the team as super-heroes for the common man. They would be getting a too ostentatious skyscraper headquarters, paid for by the very deep pockets of the Angel. When Iceman got a gander at his pal’s worth, he gasped ‘…that’s more money than God makes!’

“Ivan Petrovich, the Widow’s faithful aide-de-camp, was skeptical of this venture. But Natasha felt a connection with her new teammates. They were loners, none of them comfortable in their lives to date. She could relate to them. The scene where she explains this to Ivan is a favorite of mine.

“The new team’s first challenge was Stuart Clarke, a super-scientist with terrible business sense who blamed the competition with Tony Stark and the then-current recession for the failure of his company. He donned a suit of armor and started robbing banks. Not the deepest of thinkers, the man the authorities would name “Rampage” convinced himself no real people would be hurt by his crimes, only the banks and the government that would make up the bank’s losses.

“Issue #5 introduced Emerson Bale, a high-priced lawyer representing the Worthington family and the Champions. Picture the foolish Tony Isabella of 1976 thinking he was so clever with that name. Picture fans realizing immediately that a guy named “Bale” was probably up to no good. Sigh.

“Issue 35 established Iceman was already thinking about leaving the team. Concerned about his secret identity and the effect losing it would have on his folks, he wanted to stay just long enough to help Warren get the team up and running. This would be a continuing sub-plot after I left the book.

“Issue 35 also hinted at another development in Iceman’s life. His powers were getting stronger. Two unsuspecting women felt a sudden chill as Bobby passed them on a sidewalk. I could get drama out of him wanting to leave the Champions but having to stay because his powers were becoming dangerous.”

“The conclusion of the story saw the Widow become the team’s leader. It has one of the most cynical endings I ever wrote. It doubtless speaks volumes about my low character that, on rereading the issue for this intro, I chuckled evilly at those final panels.”

I always liked seeing how Kirby rendered various characters. I would have loved to see a Kirby "Thirteen Doctors" drawing.

I've always wished to see Kirby's version of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men.

Catch-up.

I think we all agree Black Goliath should have been Giant-Man from the start.

Why were all the heroes Isabella in charge of pushed into the Champions except Tigra ?

Jack Kirby's covers, to me, seemed really stiff and (dare I say) old-fashioned. 'My' comics were more fluid and relaxed than his heroes - but I never liked it when cover artists and interior artists differed anyway.

I always wondered about that strange depiction of Iceman's powers, never picked up on again bleeding off towards passers by. That would have been an interesting development for a guy that desperately needed something interesting.

The book is really getting into its stride here...

“Why Masterworks in one volume when so many issues are covered? Why not 'Omnibus' or 'Epic Collection' - I don't understand?”

Good question. I’ve long since given up trying to guess the algorithm Marvel uses to set price points on it reprint collections, but roughly speaking, the fewer copies they expect to sell, the higher the price. For example, the price of the Champions edition of Marvel Masterworks is a whopping $100.00 SRP, but the upcoming larger format Omnibus collection Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man is “only” $75.00.

Go figure.

We are told of the arrival of Rampage, "The first menace born of the recession"

Warren hires a business manager for the team - he wants them to be heroes for the common man, whatever that means.

These are both examples of the Relevance Plague that hit comics in the mid-70s. Not that I'm against relevance per se. It was usually done clumsily and too obviously.

About then was the 'Jesus' controversy in Ghost Rider IIRC.

Was that a reason he was so pointedly NOT in those Champions issues?

Dunno. there were footnotes saying he was real busy in his own book. I shall have to remember to try to find out what was going on in his own book at the time.

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